Schwartz and Dill by Matthew Sharpe

BOMB 71 Spring 2000
Bombcover 71 1024X1024

There was the time Jim Dill allowed his head to be used as a bong, but only by the girls. This was late into one of the infamous Forest Road cabin keg parties. Chris Schwartz stood in one corner of the cabin doing card tricks, which was what he did at parties instead of being able to initiate or sustain a conversation. Olivia McLanahan, whose second cousin who lived in Italy owned the cabin on Forest Road, moved among her guests making sure they had drinks, or someone to be loved by. Others at the party at this late hour: Martha Earp, Ginny Scott, Jeff Sweed, Jeff Thomas, Tommy Nichols; that’s about it. Typical late-night party in the fall of the last year of high school.

Olivia McLanahan walked over to where Chris Schwartz was doing leger-de-main for Jim Dill. Dill said, “You’re killing me with that trick, Schwartzy. I love that trick. I always love that trick. Olivia, don’t you just love Schwartzy?” Chris Schwartz, horrified with embarrassment, dropped the cards.

Olivia McLanahan, holding up a small plastic bag of excellent, killer weed, said to the two boys and half of the rest of the people in the room, “I have this killer weed but nothing to smoke it out of?”

Chris Schwartz said, “That’s funny, because I have these rolling papers, but nothing to smoke in them?”

Jim Dill said loudly, “Oh, Schwartzy, let’s all get down on our knees and thank the stern, judgmental God of your people, for you have brought rolling papers to the party.”

Jim Dill was the only black person at the party, and one of 12 black people enrolled at Belwether High School in Belwether, Connecticut. Although he did not have the highest grade point average in the school, he was the smartest student in the school, and probably smarter than most of the teachers as well. He was a wide receiver on the school’s state champion football team and had won the MVP award three years in a row. Nor were there exactly a ton of Jews at the party, or in Belwether, and Dill took it upon himself to lavish his own form of genuine affection on Schwartz, despite the widely if not universally held opinion that Schwartz was a nerd, a wimp, a spaz, a wuss, and possibly even a fag.

Schwartz giggled.

The room had congealed around Dill. Dill took out of his pants pocket the kind of burnished-steel jack knife that would make even one of your fatter authentic Swiss Army knives look like a cheap plastic bauble. He cut and removed a small circle of fine mesh from the screen door that let out onto the large, wooded backyard of the cabin on Forest Road. He lay down on the dilapidated sofa by the door, inserted the metal screen into his left nostril such that the screen both covered the nostril opening and descended a half an inch into the nostril proper. Beckoning, he said to Olivia McLanahan, “Come here darling.” She came. Chris Schwartz looked on uncomfortably. Dill said, “Give me your killer weed.” She gave him the weed. He took a pinch of the weed from the bag and put it into the concavity of the screen in his nostril.

It was about three o’clock on a Sunday morning in late autumn. The party was less than a quarter of a keg shy of coming to an end. Lying on his back on the couch, staring at the ceiling, part of a screen door and a pinch of expensive marijuana up his nose, Jim Dill said to everyone in the room, “Now my head is a giant brown bong. What you do, you hold the flame of a butane lighter to my left nostril, you close off my right nostril with your forefinger, you make a seal over my mouth with your mouth, and you inhale. I don’t think I have to tell any of you that this is a big sacrifice of dignity and comfort on my part and therefore naturally only the women present in the room at this time get to use my head as a bong. In fact, now that I think of it, I don’t even want the men in the room to witness this. It’s too intimate and degrading and I have my pride. So all the men clear out.”

The boys laughed. They said things like “Unbelievable,” and “Dill, man.”

Dill, still looking up at the ceiling, said with genuine anger, “You think I’m joking? Get the hell out of here!”

Every boy at the party but Chris Schwartz was Dill’s teammate. Schwartz thought of these particular boys—Jeff Sweed, Jeff Thomas, Tommy Nichols—as the status boys, the I’m-friends-with-Dill boys. Tommy Nichols said, “Fuck you Dill,” as if in the context of “I can say ‘Fuck you Dill’ because I’m friends with Dill.”

Dill leapt from the couch. The pot spilled onto the filthy rug from the screen, which remained lodged in his nostril. He grabbed Tommy Nichols by the throat and pressed his back all the way down against the waist-high storage freezer in the cabin on Forest Road. Jim Dill held Tommy Nichols’s throat and leaned over him as if Nichols were a girl whom Dill were about to kiss. “Say ‘Fuck you Dill’ again,” Dill said.

Nichols said, “I don’t want to. Get off me.”

“No come on, say ‘Fuck you Dill’ again. Say ‘Fuck you Dill’ again.”

“I said I don’t want to.”

“You don’t want to?”


“All right then. Man doesn’t want to. Gotta respect a man’s wants and this man wants to not say ‘Fuck you Dill’ again. I believe the matter is settled,” Dill said, and got off him.

Dill leapt halfway across the room onto his back on the couch and said, “Aw, Olivia, I am a little tipsy and that is why I let that beautiful weed of yours spill out my nose, but it won’t happen again, sweetheart, I promise. May I have another pinch?”

With another pinch ensconced in his nostril he said, “Boys, don’t make me have to tell you again now. Schwartzy, even you baby, with your foggy little rolling papers, you have to go now honey, I can’t let you see me like this.”

Chris Schwartz said, “Fuck you Dill.”

Dill, who didn’t get up from the couch, said, “Say it again.”

“Fuck you Dill,” Schwartz said.

“Schwartzy, man, I love you. Hey fellahs, don’t you love Schwartzy? Isn’t Schwartzy just a little bit of adorable?” The boys grumbled and, Schwartz among them, filed out into the wooded back yard.

Next day, the girls put the word out in the hallways that they all really did do bong hits out of Jim Dill’s face, and got joyously, almost hallucinotorily high, as did Dill himself who, no idiot, received for every bong hit the girls took a small intracranial bong hit of his own, and never mind the singed nose hairs. Chris Schwartz was upset about the whole event. He hadn’t even smoked pot in years. He had brought the rolling papers expressly for Olivia, who always had pot, and never a thing to smoke it out of. All the same, he had to admire Jim Dill.


* * *


Later that week in American History, Chris Schwartz gave an oral presentation on Paul Robeson, sort of. Jim Dill was in the class too, as were many of the Forest Road revelers.

Chris was still in his half-conscious youth: sometimes he saw more than he was able to feel; sometimes he felt more than he was able to see; sometimes neither. During the course of any several minutes he could think of something important, forget it entirely, think of it again, forget it again, his memory a short-circuited strobe light in the dark discotheque of his consciousness. So when his history teacher said, “Mr. Schwartz will begin class today with his presentation on, ah, Paul Robeson,” Chris was both prepared and unprepared. He had been, American History to one side, a casual Robeson hobbyist anyway. He’d read here and there in the autobiography, Here I Stand; he’d rented and viewed The Emperor Jones and a few other Robeson cinematic vehicles; of an afternoon, he’d worried his Smithsonian Paul Robeson Anthology CD, which, as luck would have it, happened to be in his backpack right now. Chris Schwartz fell into a reverie about the Robeson CD. The reverie, during which everyone was waiting for him to talk or stand up, lasted 15 seconds. A boy named Richard Stone interrupted it with the angry exclamation, “Schwartz!” and Chris jumped out of his chair.

Richard Stone was a tackle on the Belwether football team and the only boy Jim Dill could not intimidate. It was said that Stone’s working-class parents were bringing him up without love and that, in the town in New York where he had lived before he had moved to Belwether a year ago, Stone had killed a kid by punching him in the face over and over.

Schwartz, tall, skinny, stoop-shouldered, trembling slightly, stood at the front of the room, facing his classmates. His mind—like the three-by-five cards on which he was meant to have written notes for this report—was a perfect blank. Out of the blankness he said, “I’d like to begin by playing a selection from the Paul Robeson Anthology CD, available from Smithsonian records for $11.99 plus shipping and handling.” Chris removed the CD from his backpack and took the portable CD player down from the metal filing cabinet behind his teacher’s desk. He fumbled endlessly with the CD player’s electric cord. “Excuse me folks, I’ve never worked with a CD player before.”

Richard Stone muttered, “Fuckstick.” The boys sitting beside him in the back row—Jeff Sweed, Jeff Thomas, and Tommy Nichols—muttered, in no particular order, “fuck” and “stick” and “waste” and “wimp” and “nerd” and “fag” and so on. Jim Dill, a row ahead, turned and offered a cautionary “Boys …”

Chris said, “Hook up, hook up, the Zen thing always works for me.” Not most, but some of the girls—the ones with divorced parents, or a younger brother with leukemia, or a live-in, senile grandparent—admired Chris’s self-effacing irony. Olivia McLanahan was one such girl. Her silken red hair was swept back in a sophisticated bun, and she felt a sweet maternalistic pride in and apprehension for Chris. She had a sensation of his being somehow hers, which sent a flush of blood to the freckled skin of her face.

Chris popped his Robeson CD into the player and programmed it for number four, “No More Auction Block for Me.” He figured that while the song was playing he could mentally assemble things to say about Robeson. What he didn’t figure was that yesterday he had mistakenly put his Nirvana In Utero CD inside the Paul Robeson Anthology CD case, so when he pressed the play button, instead of Robeson’s monumental bass-baritone, Kurt Cobain’s plaintive, searing tenor emerged:

Rape me.
Rape me again.
Rape me.
Rape me my friend.
I’m not the only one.
Aaaaaahm not the only one.
Aaaaaahm not the only one.
Aaaaaahm not the only one.

“Oops, wrong CD. Which brings up an interesting point. We’re all human, you know?” Chris asked. “Which was the main point of Paul Robeson’s valedictory speech before the graduating class of Rutgers University, 1919, which meant he had the highest grade point average—a 97.5—of anyone graduating from Rutgers at that time.

“Paul Robeson was a great black American football player, actor, singer, orator, and political activist who, throughout his adult life, enjoyed sexual relations with many women, including many white women. This is a type of activity he shared in common with that other great prominent African American political figure, Martin Luther King, Jr., though I don’t think it’s fair that we speak of only African American political figures who were cockswains—I mean, uh, yeah that’s not a curseword—cockswains, because a lot of white men did it too, like Thomas Jefferson. Plus Robeson had a high degree of sophistication and athletic physique which women would definitely like, which is only my opinion.

“Another point I would like to point out about Paul Robeson is his communism. Robeson was admirer and friend to the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. After a falling out with Vladimir Lenin, Trotsky fled the Soviet Union and took up residence in Princeton, New Jersey, Paul Robeson’s hometown. One summer day, while Trotsky was bathing in his wooded back yard in Princeton, New Jersey, Richard Nixon, who was then the head of the House un-American Activities Committee, snuck up behind Trotsky and, just when Trotsky was giving himself a nice shampoo, Nixon forcefully inserted an ice pick into the back of Trotsky’s brain.”

Chris Schwartz paused. He was troubled by the violent death of Trotsky and had to quell the turmoil inside himself in order to continue his speech.

“When Robeson heard of Trotsky’s death, he suddenly converted to Judaism, in solidarity with his martyred hero. At this time in American history, Congress considered all Jews to be Communists. They were wrong. Only some Jews were Communists: the smart ones. Like Paul Robeson, who cherished freedom and decency and respect for mankind and the dignity and decency of the common man.”

Chris Schwartz was experiencing a deep kind of truth that transcended mere facts. Olivia McLanahan’s face was flushed with confusion and surprise and a mysterious kind of delight. Jim Dill wore a smirk of hilarious approval. Richard Stone was restrained from murdering Chris Schwartz with his hands and teeth only by the force of social custom.

“Paul Robeson, though never allowed to set foot on American soil after his conversion, toured the world giving concerts. No matter what song he was singing—a Negro spiritual, a European peasant song, an opera, a child’s nursery rhyme—he always changed the lyrics to include diatribes against America as well as biographical facts about Leon Trotsky.

“Recently, Ebony magazine honored Paul Robeson by naming him one of the ten greatest African-Americans of all time. Not long after, the Jewish Daily Forward put Robeson on its all-time top-ten list of American Jews. Regrettably, Leon Trotsky’s name was absent from both lists.

“In conclusion, Paul Robeson was the greatest man who ever lived. We should all try to be more like him. Now I will play ‘Serve the Servants,’ by Nirvana, a song Paul Robeson would have sung about Leon Trotsky if he were alive today. Thank you.”

At the end of “Serve the Servants,” Jim Dill and Olivia McLanahan clapped loudly. A few other people clapped faintly. Inside the doomed mind of Richard Stone, violent thoughts gathered and swarmed. The teacher of American History said, “Ms. McLanahan, I believe you’re next with, ah, Woodrow Wilson.”


* * *


After American history Chris Schwartz felt depleted and infinitely sad. He was supposed to move on to Calculus. Instead, he veered out the door of the school building, across the long, thin parking lot adjacent to it, and into the narrow strip of woods beyond the parking lot. For Chris, the woods were the place that was no longer High School and not yet quite Reality, the physical elaboration of an emotional betwixt-and-between state—a daydream acreage.

It was possible, in Belwether, Connecticut at that time, for a young man to accomplish most of his life’s serious drug abuse by the age of 16. So it was with Chris Schwartz, who had already abused beer, pot, cocaine, LSD, and lost interest in them. Chris no longer got high, he gottiredTiredness, followed by sleep, was Schwartz’s pale joy and fleeting solace, his half-assed refuge from the world, which was to say from strife. To console himself for the Robeson debacle, not to mention the ongoing impossibility of Olivia McLanahan, he walked increasingly slowly along the path through the woods, working himself down into a duller and duller fit of tiredness. Slower, slower, slower, slower; he was no longer walking so much as performing a series of still photographs, a visual essay on modern fatigue.

He reached a flat, soft, mossy patch of forest floor big enough for a teenage boy to lie comfortably on. There he collapsed. For a time, he lay on his back and gazed at the pattern made by the semi-denuded branches of trees against the gray autumn sky.

Because this was the day and the time of day when the football team did their once-weekly endurance training, Richard Stone, Jeff Thomas, Jeff Sweed, and Tommy Nichols came jogging along the path through the woods in crimson sweatsuits. Richard Stone wasn’t exactly jogging on the path, he was sprinting and zigzagging, bobbing and weaving and bushwhacking through the foliage on either side of the path, bursting with male muscularity, uttering the cry of the white New England wild man, “Loo loo loo loo loo loo loo!”

Stone almost tripped over Schwartz. “Yo, look what we have here,” he said.

“Yo,” Chris said, tiredly. The woods being, it suddenly occurred to Chris, a place isolated from all humanity, where anyone could do anything they wanted to anyone else for as long and as hard as they wanted to, the woods were not a good place to run into a person like Richard Stone.

“Schwartz, man, are you a communist fairy or what?” Stone asked.

“Would you like me to be a communist fairy, sir?” Chris asked, getting to his feet.

“Here’s the thing. If you are a communist fairy, we’ll all have to punch you in the face ten times as hard as we can. If you’re not a communist fairy, we won’t have to.”

“I’m not a communist fairy.”

“Prove it.”


Stone had to think about that one. While he was thinking, Schwartz envisioned a hideous form of proof involving the Pledge of Allegiance and coerced nudity. Stone grinned. “How about a head-butt.”

“Head?” Chris asked. “Butt?” he asked, perhaps foolishly willing to risk his life for a modest double entendre.

“You head-butt me and you’re not a communist fairy. You don’t head-butt me and we all take turns punching you in the face as hard as we can.”

Tommy Nichols grabbed Chris by the arms from behind. Richard Stone positioned himself in front of Chris for the head-butt. Jim Dill came springing lightly and swiftly along the wooded path in a bright red cotton jersey and royal blue polished nylon running shorts.

“What’s up fellahs?”

Stone said, “Schwartz is gonna head-butt me.” The other boys looked eagerly from Stone to Dill.

Dill said, “Schwartzy, what kind of crazy idea is that? Why you wanna do such a thing? You, an erudite scholar of African American history, risking brain damage to head-butt the butt-head. What a silly idea Schwartzy, I’m surprised at you.”

Stone said, “It wasn’t his idea.”

Dill said, “Wait a minute now, wait a minute now. ’Wasn’t his idea’? Schwartz, could this be true? Could it be possible that you didn’t even want to head-butt Stone? Is that possible at all?”

“I don’t know,” said Chris, who was sick with fear.

Stone said, “Yeah I’m gonna head-butt him, so fuck off.”

Dill said, “No, I’ll tell you who you’re gonna head-butt. You’re gonna head-butt me.”

“Oh perfect,” Stone said. “The nigger defending the Jew.” The word had not yet been spoken to Dill by Stone, who had moved to Belwether only at the tail end of the previous year’s football season. Both had known that it only required the proper time and place, and both were excited that the time was now and the place, here.

“I’m a dark African rubber plant, you’re downy white Elmer’s glue,” Dill said. “Whatever you say bounces off my black ass and nestles right up inside your white pussy. You ready for the head-butt, Stone?”

“Oh I’m gonna hurt you so bad, niggerboy.”

“Hurt me,” Dill said.

“You black nigger,” Stone said, because now he just loved and needed to say it every time he opened his mouth.

They stood facing one another a foot apart in formal head-butt stance. Stone was three inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than Dill, but Dill was quicker and smarter and therefore had velocity and timing and angle and placement working in his favor. With the spot on his forehead where the front of his hairline was, he smashed the bridge of Stone’s nose. Stone went down with an agonized shout. He lay on his back as more and more dark blood flowed from both his nostrils. Jim Dill put the bottom of his clean, stylish running shoe at the base of Stone’s sternum and, with a little push-twist motion, knocked Stone’s breath out of him. Dill looked defiantly at Jeff Sweed, Jeff Thomas, and Tommy Nichols, who looked back at him with their mouths wide open.

Dill lofted both arms above his head and made the V sign with his hands. “Nigger-Jew victory.” He slung an arm over the shoulder of a horrified and exhilarated Chris Schwartz, saying, “Come on Schwartzy, I’ll walk you to lunch.”

To Chris, moments later, Dill confided, “Listen, Schwartz, I don’t feel too good. That hurt like hell. It’s like my brain is kind of dislodged and floating free inside my skull, plus I’m gonna vomit. Can you drive me home?”

“I’ll miss English. It’s my favorite subject. Olivia always sits next to me.”

“Oh Schwartz, please tell me you’re kidding. You’ve got to drive me home.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll drive you home.”

“God, Schwartzy, why do I do this shit for you?”

“Because you recognize in me a fellow champion of the downtrodden, wherever they may live on this earth?”

“No,” Dill said. “I’m sure that’s not it.”


* * *


The following Saturday night, someone came up with the bright idea of handjob poker. Chris Schwartz didn’t come up with it, and neither did Olivia McLanahan, but they were both present at the small Saturday night gathering at the Forest Road cabin where the first game of handjob poker in history was played. As far as anyone knew, Jim Dill was nowhere in the vicinity.

Handjob poker: at the end of a specified number of “hands,” the player in possession of the greatest number of chips may decide either to give a handjob to or receive a handjob from any other player at the table. Poker was the one sport Chris was good at. Handjob poker, he felt, was the most beautiful invention of the high school mind, the apotheosis, the culmination, the single evolutionary event toward which adolescent thought had been slowly moving for thousands upon thousands of years. Chris was winning. He tried not to so much as glance in the direction of Olivia McLanahan.

There was a knock on the door. The door, which was not usually even closed, was now locked to preserve the secrecy and the even male-female ratio of the game. The players glanced up and saw Jim Dill’s dark face framed in the small square window of the door. Dill was smiling brightly and fakely; malevolently, Chris thought. “Schwart-zee,” Dill sang, “it’s your graaaand-maaaa, let me iii-iin.”

Nobody in the cabin knew how serious or literal the rules of handjob poker were. Part of the pleasure of handjob poker was the ambiguity of handjob poker (though, admittedly, the larger part of the pleasure of handjob poker would have had to have been the handjob). But they all knew that if Jim Dill entered the orbit of the game, he would ruin it. He’d have to. He’d need to exaggerate its ridiculousness. He’d say, “Handjob poker? Why not fuck poker? Why not oral sodomy spin-the-bottle?” On a high shelf of Chris Schwartz’s fantasy life sat a lovely and delicate glass figurine of himself and Olivia McLanahan mutually giving one another handjobs, their necks gracefully arched back, their lips slightly parted in the universal posture of ecstasy. Dill would enter the cabin and smash the figurine. Chris was relieved when one of the other two boys at the table—Danny Knight or Steve Hecht, it didn’t matter who—said, “Sorry Jim, closed poker game.”

Jim Dill’s face disappeared from the door and reappeared momentarily. “Schwartzy,” he said, making a worried clown face now, “I gotta go to the baaath-roooom. Let me iii-iiin.”

Now Chris could look neither up at Jim Dill nor across the table at Olivia McLanahan. “Whose bid is it?” he said, looking down at his cards.

Olivia said, “Maybe we should let him in?”

Chris observed the shadings of Olivia’s remark. In her wish to let Dill in he saw the sweet, generous goodness in her nature. In her hesitancy he saw her wish to give a handjob to or receive a handjob from himself. All of which made him feel more confident in saying, “Maybe later. Let’s finish the game. Jim’ll understand.”

This did not have the effect on Olivia that he had thought it would have. By the look on her face, Chris sensed that no affectionate touching would pass between the two of them tonight, or possibly ever. Now he was definitely not going to let Dill in.

“Schwartzy, I’m gonna kick your aaaa-aaass.”

There was a very strange expression on Dill’s face now. He looked like someone who was trying to look terrified even as he was finding something hilarious. “Schwartzy, Olivia,” Dill sang through clenched teeth. “Really want you people to let me iii-iiin. Schwartzy, really starting to hate you now, buddy.” The poker game had come to a halt. Everyone in the room was frozen. Dill’s face went away from the window and came back. Dill was laughing and clowning and being silly and feigning this weird, intense fear. His face disappeared again and ten seconds later they heard several voices yelling.

Olivia was the first out the door of the cabin. What Chris Schwartz saw when he crossed the threshold was Jim Dill lying on the ground next to Tommy Nichols. Two baseball bats lay scattered nearby. Nichols’s eyes were closed. Dill’s eyes were open. Dill looked weary and sad. He said to the stunned poker players, “It’s all right, they just busted my arm. Could one of you be so kind as to call an ambulance?” What Chris Schwartz noticed, for some reason—and it surprised him—was the peculiar, what Chris thought of as uneducated way that Dill pronounced the word “ambulance.” Something like AM-buh-LANCE.

Later that night, in the emergency room, Jim Dill described what had happened outside the cabin inside which his white brothers and sisters had been casually betraying him over a hand of poker. It being Saturday night, Dill explained, he had wandered over to the cabin on Forest Road to see who was hanging out. Unfortunately, moments after he had knocked on the door the first time, he found himself surrounded by four baseball-bat wielding gentlemen from the football team—Jeff Sweed, Jeff Thomas, Tommy Nichols and, of course, the redoubtable Richard Stone. In between the next several appearances of his face at the window of the cabin door, Dill managed to fend off the ruffians with conciliatory talk. Eventually, however, Stone said something to the effect of, “Now I’m gonna bash your head in, nigger.” Because Tommy Nichols was closest to Dill, Dill immediately cracked Nichols’s jaw with his fist. Nichols fell unconscious, dropping his bat. In the meantime, Stone landed a glancing blow with his bat off Dill’s cheek, and while Dill was recovering, Stone hit him solidly in the forearm, fracturing it in two places. Dill countered with a side-kick to Stone’s ribs, and was also able to grab Jeff Sweed’s baseball bat, though he felt quite sure that neither Sweed nor Thomas had the stomach for hitting a human being—even an African American human being—with a baseball bat. At this point in the action, Olivia had been kind enough to open the door, and Stone and the two Jeffs fled the scene. “And voila,” Dill said, “there you have the event in its entirety.”

Dill made them all—including Tommy Nichols, who was being treated in the emergency room for a fractured jaw—swear to explain that he and Nichols had been horsing around on the roof of the cabin on Forest Road and had fallen off. They didn’t argue with him.


* * *


Jim Dill had to sit out the rest of the football season, and the basketball season as well. In the meantime, he scored double 800s on his SATs and was accepted on early admission with a full scholarship to Harvard. Chris Schwartz did not fare as well on his SATs and ended up getting into Rutgers, his third choice.

Chris kept his distance from both Olivia McLanahan and Jim Dill for the rest of the year. He saw them sometimes at parties, chatted briefly with one or the other, usually left the party early, and went home. He wasn’t sure if they liked him now, or if he liked them, or neither.

After the Belwether High School commencement exercises, Jim Dill approached Chris Schwartz in the parking lot in the bright sunlight. Dill looked somber in his dark blue graduation robe. “Schwartz,” he said. “I hear you’re going to Rutgers.”


“I’m going to Harvard, heh-heh. Tell you what, Schwartz. You’re gonna love Rutgers with every ounce of your being. Every second you’re at Rutgers, you’re gonna know you’re not good enough for it. While I on the other hand,” he said, lifting up his formerly broken arm, “will disdain Harvard. On a good day, I’ll despise it. I’ll tear the place up. I’ll vandalize the library. I’ll smear human fecal matter in the great books in the Harvard Library. And all the while, I won’t be thinking of you. I hereby erase you from my memory, Schwartz. I forget you.”

Jim Dill faked a punch at Chris’s face. Chris shut his eyes and winced.

“Aaaah-ha, I had you going, didn’t I?” Dill said. “I had you going, Schwartzy. You thought I was one serious, angry, grudge-holding, bad-ass Negro, didn’t you. Schwartz, you are funny. You are one gullible little fucker. I forgive you, man. You know that, right? I definitely want to see you at the graduation party at Forest Road tonight and have a celebratory beer with you, girlfriend. Are you down? I said Are you down?”

Chris said, “Yeah nigger, I’m down.”

Jim Dill slapped Chris Schwartz twice gently in the face and walked away.

Matthew Sharpe’s novel, Nothing is Terrible was published by Villard Books this spring. He is also the author of Stories from the Tube. His stories have appeared in Harper’s, Zoetrope, Southwest Review, and other magazines.

Label by Sean Madigan Hoen
Winner of the 2011 BOMB Fiction Prize,
Judged by Rivka Galchen
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Portrait of author Danielle Evans. The photograph is tinted pink.

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Originally published in

BOMB 71, Spring 2000

Featuring interviews with Frank Stella, John Currin, Jim Crace, Frances Kiernan, Brian Boyd, Marsha Norman, and Arto Lindsay. 

Read the issue
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